Institute of Public Affairs

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The Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) is a right-wing, corporate funded think tank based in Melbourne. It has close links to the Liberal Party of Australia since its founding in 1943; the original group centred on Charles D ("CD" or "Ref") Kemp and Sir Keith Murdoch (father of Rupert and CEO of the Melbourne "Herald & Weekly Times" newspaper group). The group of friends from the magnate's Melbourne Club initially saw itself as a Menzies United Party (later Liberal Party) fund raiser, and it evolved a fierce anti-socialist/anti-union line under the influence of local manufacturers. Later it became a "policy reform" operation to counter the prevailing 'limp-wristed' conservatism (they were sure Australia was in the grips of Communism), by superimposing free-market "libertarian" influences on the party.

Many of its staffers and supporters of the IPA have been from the more aggressive Libertarian elements, and often among those corporate supporters who are prominent in Liberal Party factional affairs as the fierce opponents of the unions in right-wing governments. Rupert Murdoch and his mother have both been prominent supporters. The most celebrated was the Liberal Party's most famous 'Dry' Member of Parliament, the Federal government minister John Hyde who ran his own Western Australian-based Australian Institute for Public Policy (AIPP) at the Perth University (funded by Mining and manufacturing companies), and also figured at the head of the Crossroads Group, an extreme free-market coven who originally met in Perth.

Crossroads had boom-time funding from the mining companies and especially from the Harold Clough. The Clough family had major investments in mining engineering services and they also backed the IPA. The November 1975 dismissal of Whitlam and the election of the Fraser Government brought an influx of new Liberal MPs into Canberra with John Hyde, the NSW party secretary Jim Carlton, Murray Sainsbury, and (in 1978), Peter Shack, along with the local AMATIL/British-American Tobacco (BAT) lobbyist, Phil Scanlan (who later became consul-general in New York for his services).

They formed the core of the 'Crossroads' lobby ... a ginger group of backbenchers who revolted against the Frazer Cabinet's lack of courage in privatisation of health and education. They met frequently from 1980 until the demise of the Frazer government in 1983 to demand that the government adopt free-market policies. They had the government's ear because Fraser's political adviser at this time was radio shock-jock Alan Jones, and behind the group was mining millionairre Hugh Morgan (who also had a couple of his own small think-tanks - HR Nicholls Society, etc). Julie Bishop who was to become one of Australia's better foreign ministers had been managing partner of the Clayton Utz/Robinson Cox law-firm in Perth during the time it ran the WA tobacco lobby for BAT.

The Kemp Handover to WA

In 1988, the two sons of CD Kemp, Charles Roderick (known as "Rod") Kemp and his younger brother David Kemp, (who had inherited control of the IPA from their father) were gently pushed out. In 1990 both won preselection for Liberal Federal parliamentary places in Victoria. Corporate lawyer Rod Kemp became a Senator, and David (academic political scientist and advisor to PM Malcolm Fraser) won a safe seat in the House of Representatives.

John Hyde, who had retired from government in Canberra but wanted to stay in the east, was brought in to take control of the IPA (1991-95) and merge his AIPP into the organisation. On a fly-in-when needed basis, he brought across the Nullabor some of his WA staff: J Ray Johnstone, Chris Uylatt and Mike Nahan.

In 1988, Gerard Henderson, who had been running the South Australian branch of the IPA was exposed as an obvious lobbyist; he promoted the tobacco industry funding of the Adelaide Formula One Grand Prix.[1] and attacked the SA Government's "Tobacco Sponsorship Bill" which put a tax on cigarettes, to provide funding for the sports bodies who had previously taken cigarette company money for support. Henderson was quickly relocated to Sydney where his operations came into competition with Greg Lindsay's Centre for International Studies (CIS).

The CIS (Sydney, Brisbane and New Zealand) was a long-established primary part of the US Libertarian "Atlas Group" network, and it received substantial funding (and regular lobbying commissions) from Philip Morris with links to American and Canadian think-tanks across the Pacific. The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) supplied the CIS with staffers Chris DeMuth and Tom Switzer).

The IPA, based in Melbourne had established its Libertarian network links along with the Perth AIPP, and South Australian and Singapore IPA subsidiaries to the London Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) and the Mont Pelerin Society. It serviced British-American Tobacco (BAT) (WD&HO Wills in Australia) and looked to Europe for much of its funding. John Hyde and Greg Lindsay met in late 1988 and struck a territorial agreement which forced Gerard Henderson to leave the IPA and set up his own Sydney Institute think-tank, which continued to be funded by both BAT and Philip Morris.[2]

The WA group remained dominant in the IPA for a decade or more. When John Hyde retired, his WA assiciate Mike Nahan took over, and then in 2005 when Mike Nahan left to become Treasurer and leader of the Opposition in Western Australiahe was replaced by Roskam. John Roskam had run for Liberal Party preselection for a number of elections: and in 2016 Tim Wilson was given the safe seat of Goldstein.

Following the 2007 federal election defeat of the Liberal Party, Christian Kerr, a journalist with The Australian noted that a new group of federal Liberal politicians were "receiving support from former Howard government staffer John Roskam" at the IPA.[2]

Their ideology

The IPA key policy positions include: advocacy for privatisation and deregulation; attacks on the positions of unions and non-government organisations; support of assimilationist indigenous policy (cf. the Bennelong Society) and refutation of the science involved with environmental issues such as climate change.


The IPA is a non-profit private company, which has a restricted membership of 54 people. It was formally established in 1943 by G. J Coles and a group of businessmen based in Melbourne who appointed Charles D Kemp as the first director. From the outset, it had close ties to the Liberal Party under its leader Robert Menzies. Australian journalist Paul Kelly argues that the IPA's C.D. Kemp was “probably the principal architect of the original Menzies platform” ("The End of Certainty: The Story of the 1980s", p. 47).

The IPA was not influential again until the 1980s, when C.D. Kemp's son, Rod Kemp took up the leadership . Rod Kemp transformed it from a conservative organisation to a neoliberal one, funded mainly by major corporations groups, and pursuing a pro-free-market, pro-privatization, pro-deregulation and anti-union agenda.

According to Cahill (2004: 210) members of the IPA executive from 1976-1984 included David L. Elsum, Hon Vernon Wilcox, Sir Frank Espie, Douglas Hocking, Sir Wilfred Brookes, James Balderstone, Hugh Morgan, Peter Bunning and Charles Goode.

Throughout the 1980's the IPA's primary focus was on issues such as economic policy, privatisation and industrial relations policy. It also dabbled in a few broader issues such as the role of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the role of churches in public policy debates. It wasn't until 1989 that the IPA began to pay any sustained interest to environmental issues. Since then it has campaigned against the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, promoted the use of genetically engineered crops and defended the logging of native forests.

More recently, the IPA has been the driving force behind the establishment of a number of new non-profit front groups, including the Australian Environment Foundation - which campaigns for weaker environmental laws - Independent Contractors of Australia - which campaigns for an end to workplace safety laws and a general deregulation of the labour market, and the ironically named Owner Drivers Australia, which campaigns against safety and work standard for truck drivers.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard, in a speech to the IPA justifying the 2003 Iraq War, commented that "the Institute has played a role in shaping, as well as articulating, our nation’s values."[3]

Right Wing?

IPA Executive Director John Roskam has objected to the group being described as being "right wing". "We are many things – but 'right wing' is not one of them. Any combination of free market, liberal, conservative (on some issues), liberal/conservative, (even) libertarian (on occasion), would be an appropriate description of the IPA – but not right wing. Since when has being in favour of small government, lower taxes, and less government been 'right wing'?," he wrote in a letter to Crikey.[4]

In a letter in response, Niall Clugston described Roskam's argument as "disingenuous". "The left/right spectrum is best understood as denoting relative positions, and the IPA is certainly poles apart from anyone described as left-wing. By the way, a key characteristic of right-wingers is that they shun the label. Perhaps they should explain why that is."[5]

Media impact

Following the publication of a column in 2008 questioning the impact of think tanks such as the IPA, Chris Berg, the editor of the IPA's journal, IPA Review, responded:

"Andrew Crook weirdly asserts that the Institute of Public Affairs has been 'effectively frozen out of the national debate' since Kevin Rudd won office. If being frozen out of the national debate is getting more than 200 op-eds published in the national media during the year and having had hundreds and hundreds media mentions and media appearances -- then we're pretty happy with that. We’re not doing too badly for an organisation with a budget of much less than $2 million."[6]

Case Studies

The IPA and climate change

In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, IPA Executive Director John Roskam confirmed the IPA's key role in supporting Australian climate sceptics. '"Of all the serious sceptics in Australia, we have helped and supported just about all of them in their work one way or another," he says, listing some prominent figures on the local circuit. "Ian Plimer - we launched his book - Bob Carter, Jo Nova, William Kininmonth."'[7]

In 2008, the institute facilitated a donation of $350,000 by Dr G. Bryant Macfie, a climate change sceptic, to the University of Queensland for environmental research. The money, which was routed via the IPS, was to fund three environmental doctoral projects with the IPA suggesting two of the three agreed topics. George Bryant Macfie was described as a "medical doctor and philanthropist" and a "long-standing IPA member." Announcing the grant, Macfie complained that "environmental activism" was akin to a new religion infecting science. "The crucifix has been replaced by the wind turbine," he said. The topics for the research included an examination of agricultural practices and chemical usage and the effectiveness of banning tree-clearing in Australia as a way to store carbon.[8] At the time Macfie held 634,846 shares in Strike Resources Limited, making him one of the was a top 20 shareholders.[9] (By 2010, Macfie had increased his shareholding to 800,000 shares, representing .615% of the company's shares.[10]) Strike Resources is a Perth-based mineral exploration company which is seeking to develop an iron project in Peru and the Berau Thermal Coal Project in Indonesia.[11]

In 2011, the institute paid for hundreds of copies of Ian Plimer's book How to get expelled from school: a guide to climate change for pupils, parents and punters to be sent to Australian schools. [12]

The IPA and the Murray River

For all their talk of 'transparency' though, the IPA has beem embroiled in controversy over failure to disclose funders of its work. In June 2004 it was revealed that Australia's largest irrgation company, Murray Irrigation Limited, contributed $40,000 to the IPA. The IPA's environment unit director Jennifer Marohasy played a critical role in persuading a government committee to overturn recomendations to increase the volume of water released into the Murray River. [3]

However, Marohasy did not disclose the donation to the committee. When asked by the Australian Financial Review about the MIL donation, Marohasy would not confirm or deny whether she knew about the donation while writing her report or giving evidence to the committee. She said she did not take "an interest in who funds IPA".

IPA executive director Mike Nahan stated the donation did not affect the organisation's position. While Nahan stated in late 2003 that the names of donors would be revealed, the information is still not disclosed on the organisations website.

In June 2006, Bill Hetherington, Chairman of Murray Irrigation Ltd from 1995 to 2005 - including the period when Murray Irrigation Ltd was a major funder of the IPA - was appointed to the IPA's board of management.

Associated Events


The IPA has heavily relied on funding from a small number of conservative corporations. Those funders disclosed by the IPA to journalists and media organisations include:

In 2003, the Australian Government paid $50,000 to the Institute of Public Affairs to review the accountability of NGOs.[6]

However, financial support for the IPA has diminished over the seven years from 1995-96 when the IPA received $1.4 million to just over $669,000 in 2001-2002 (figures unadjusted for inflation).

Even Rio Tinto, the conservative mining company, abandoned the IPA because of its strident advocacy against Aboriginal self-determination. [7].

Tobacco Industry

  • The crossroads group (John Hyde, Ray Johnstone, Paddy McGuiness) were celebrated speakers at the tobacco industry's Smokepeace conference. [8]

• Mike Nathan's contract for the IPA to work for tobacco [9]



As of August 2011, the IPA website stated that the Board of Directors comprises:[14]

Former staff

IPA Board

As of August 2011, the IPA website stated that the Board of Directors comprises:[14]

Former Board Members

Contact information

The Institute of Public Affairs
Level 2, 410 Collins Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Phone: (03) 96004744
Fax: (03) 9602 4989

Other Sourcewatch Resources

External links


  1. Henderson's wowser claims - [1]
  2. Christian Kerr, "Liberals' growing hunger", The Australian, November 25, 2008.
  3. John Howard, "Address to the Institute of Public Affairs, The Australian Club, Melbourne", May 19, 2004. (This is archived in the Internet Archive).
  4. John Roskam, "Re. 'Tabcorp board – too few doing too much'", Crikey, March 16, 2007.
  5. Letter to the editor", Crikey, March 19, 2007.
  6. Chris Berg, "Think tanks", Crikey, December 15, 2008.
  7. Ben Cubby and Antony Lawes, "The benefit of the doubt", Sydney Morning Herald, May 8, 2010.
  8. Andrew Trounson and Greg Roberts, "Dispute over climate sceptic uni grant", The Australian, May 7, 2008.
  9. Strike Resources, "2008 Annual Report", October 2008, page 99.
  10. Strike Resources, "2010 Annual Report", November 2010, page 91.
  11. Strike Resources, "Company Overview", Strike Resources website, accessed August 2011.
  12. [ "Dept of Climate Change rebuts Plimer’s book for sceptic kids", Crikey (May 2012)
  13. Mike Nahan, "National value destroyed", Australian Financial Review, April 24, 2011, page 66.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Institute of Public Affairs, "People and Associates", Institute of Public Affairs website, accessed August 2011.
  15. Institute of Public Affairs, "Rod Kemp: Appointed Chairman of Institute of Public Affairs", Media Release, July 18, 2008.
  16. "About The Lavoisier Group", Lavoisier Group website, accessed August 2008.

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